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Hot Cars: How to Protect Against Auto Theft

A motor vehicle is stolen every 45 seconds in the United States, on average, and auto thefts ticked up in 2015 and the first half of 2016 (most recent data available).1–2 That’s the bad news. The good news is that the number of auto thefts has dropped by more than 57% — from a peak of almost 1.7 million in 1991 to just over 700,000 in 2015.3

Statistics may seem abstract when it comes to protecting your own car, but it might be worth considering why the number of auto thefts has decreased. Experts believe that anti-theft programs and technology built into new cars play an important role.4 Although you might think of a shiny new car as being a prime target for thieves, seven of the top 10 most-stolen vehicle models in 2016 were more than 10 years old, built before smart keys and other modern technology became standard equipment.5 If you have an older car, you might consider after-market, anti-theft devices. Of course, caution and common sense can help protect a car of any age.

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Comprehensive Coverage

Auto theft is included among the protections provided by comprehensive auto insurance, which also reimburses you for incidents not caused by a vehicular collision, including damage (up to policy limits) resulting from vandalism, fire, falling or flying objects, collisions with animals, explosions, earthquakes, and weather-related risks such as hail or a flood.

Because comprehensive coverage is optional, consumers — especially those with older vehicles — sometimes choose to omit it from their policies in order to reduce premiums. Keep in mind that even if your car’s "book value" is low, it may be more expensive to replace than you realize.

Comprehensive premiums depend on the current value of the vehicle and the level of risk it is generally exposed to, which means you will pay more if you live in an area where claims are prevalent. Generally, urban areas pose a higher risk than rural areas, but there is wide variation among cities. In 2016, the three riskiest metro areas (based on number of thefts per 100,000 population) were Albuquerque, New Mexico; Pueblo, Colorado; and Bakersfield, California. The least risky were State College, Pennsylvania; Watertown-Fort Drum, New York; and Kahului-Wailuku-Lahaina, Hawaii.6

A Four-Part Plan

The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB), which analyzes national and state auto theft data, recommends a four-stage approach that may help protect your vehicle.

Common sense. The NICB found that during the three-year period from 2013 to 2015, almost 150,000 vehicles were stolen with the keys left in them.7 No matter how intelligent smart keys are, they won’t prevent theft if left in the car. Following a few simple rules could make a big difference: Lock your car and close the windows, take your keys, hide valuables, and park in well-lit areas.

Warning or locking devices. Car alarms may be annoying when they go off accidentally, but they can help deter thieves. There are also a variety of locking devices available for steering wheels, brakes, tires, and wheels.

Immobilizing devices. "Kill" switches, fuse or fuel cut-offs, and smart keys may prevent thieves from bypassing your ignition and hot-wiring your vehicle. Unfortunately, sophisticated thieves are learning to steal key codes in order to make replacement keys. The insurance industry and law enforcement are working together to combat this newer form of criminal activity.

Tracking devices. An electronic tracking device, or a telematics system with GPS and wireless technologies, can emit a signal to police or to a monitoring station if the vehicle is stolen.

Of course, you never want to be in the unfortunate position of waiting to see if the police can recover your stolen car. But if you are, an auto insurance policy with appropriate comprehensive coverage could be a welcome source of protection. Contact your insurance professional if you have questions about your current coverage or want to discuss additional coverage for your automobile or home.